Active Holidays

Exploring the Swabian Alb by Bike or by Feet

Blick über die Schwäbische Alb
Hiking and Cycling along the Swabian Alb

BW Story - Bernd Sautter

Hiking and Cycling along the Swabian Alb

The rolling hills and mountains of the Swabian Alb are perfect for day trips. But for those, who can spend more time here, the rewards are even greater. In this beautiful countryside, a special feature is the so-called Albtrauf, a limestone ridge that runs like a spine from the northeast to the southwest of the region. Whether you explore it on foot or on a bicycle, Fabian Teuber has tips for making it a holiday to remember. So, pull on your hiking boots or strap on your cycling helmet; follow the well-marked trails; spectacular panoramas are guaranteed!

Blick auf das Residenzschloss Urach. Das Schloss ist in Fachwerkbauweise gebaut und hat einen schön angelegten Garten darum.
If you are following the Alb-Crossing or the Albsteig trail, you should take time to visit sights such as the Bad Urach residential palace. | © Gregor Lengler

Do you have a week? Then pedal the 'Alb-Crossing'. This scenic cycle trail links Aalen in the northeast to Tuttlingen in the southwest. If the total distance of 229 miles/368 km sounds a bit daunting, then be savvy and rent an e-bike.  

Do you have two weeks? Then hike one of Germany’s classic and most-loved trails: the 'Albsteig'. This long-distance hiking trail, labelled HW1, runs diagonally across the Swabian Alb from Donauwörth in the northeast to Tuttlingen in the southwest. You can do the 222 miles/358 km, in 15 daily stages. Not that this is easy: hiking the Alb is demanding, but well worth the effort!

The Alb-Crossing Cycle Trail

A fantastic mountain bike tour

The Alb-Crossing Cycle Trail

Right from the start, we have to pedal hard. This is day one on our six-day tour from Aalen to Tuttlingen. We are ready to enjoy fantastic views and spectacular trails – and to take in sights, such as castles, palaces and the Alb’s famous limestone caves, where important prehistoric remains have been found. We will stay overnight in small communities along the route: Geislingen, Gruibingen, Bad Urach, Sonnenbühl-Erpfingen and Balingen. The sections range from 30 miles/50 km to 50 miles/80 km, with stiff climbs and descents. In case you are planning to rent an e-bike, there are charging stations along the Alb-Crossing.

Each day brings countless reasons to stop. Today, for example, we take a breather at Weissenstein Castle. High above the old town, the castle dates back to the early 17th century. Now owned by the Kage family, the castle houses the Kages Mikroversum museum, dedicated to microphotography.

Drei Personen stehen mit ihren Fahrrädern an einem Aussichtspunkt und genießen die Aussicht über die Schwäbische Alb.
There are glorious views all along the Alb-Crossing cycle trail. | © Gregor Lengler
Im Hintergrund sind zwei fahrradfahrende Personen. Im Vordergrund steht ein Pfosten aus Holz mit mehreren Hinweisschildern.
The Alb-Crossing trail is marked with a blue X on a yellow background | © Gregor Lengler

With batteries fully charged, we start day two, which is all about the views. Our route follows the escarpment of the Swabian Alb. Every gap in the trees offers sensational vistas over the foothills. Special challenger in the evening: to be in good shape for the following day, we must not over-indulge at the welcoming brewery restaurant in Gruibingen. Luckily, day three is not the longest stage, with several excuses to stop. Like pearls on a necklace, we see the ruins of three castles: medieval Reußenstein, Teck with its tall tower, and Hohenneuffen, set high on a bluff – with a rather good beer garden. The route itself is relatively flat, which is a relief for cyclists, who are not using e-bikes. In any case, energy is required for the next day. 

Ausblick über die Schwäbische Alb mit vielen Bergen, Wiesen und Bäumen. Im Tal liegt eine Ortschaft mit vielen Häusern.
The view from the the Hohenneuffen castle ruin and its nice beer garden is worth all the effort of the uphill.  | © Susi Maier
Der Maktplatz in Bad Urach lädt mit seinen vielen Cafés und den historischen Fachwerkhäusern zum Verweilen ein.
With its many cafés and historic half-timbered houses, the market square in Bad Urach, where we spend the night after stage three, invites you to stop and linger. | © TMBW, Foto: Dietmar Denger

Day Four: a real challenge. Luckily, we soothed our aching muscles the previous evening in Bad Urach’s natural thermal baths. Why? Because right after breakfast, we take on the first of three climbs that are today’s tests. We refill our water bottles in Pfullingen and Gomaringen. And we cool down underground. The Alb is famous for spectacular stalactite caves, such as the Bärenhöhle (bear cave), where prehistoric animals sheltered, and the illuminated Nebelhöhle (mist cave). 

Equally cooling, but above ground, are waterfalls. On day five, we pass the Schlichem falls near Hausen am Tann in a pretty area known as the Zollernalb. Along the way, we look across at Hohenzollern Castle, where we expect Rapunzel to be letting down her hair. But what surprises us most is the landscape. We didn’t realise that parts of the Swabian Alb are actually flat. Crossing the Killertal Valley does not take long. And, it is a welcome break from the ups and downs, before the final testing stretch. Locals call this a "murderous" climb, but it is actually good fun! 

In den Höhlen der Schwäbischen Alb bekommen Besucherinnen und Besucher tiefe Einblicke in die Gesteine der Alb.
In the stalactite caves 'Bärenhöhle' and 'Nebelhöhle', visitors get deep insights into the rocks of the Swabian Alb. | © TMBW, Foto: Gregor Lengler
Die Burg Hohenzollern war Stammsitz des preußischen Königshauses und der Fürsten von Hohenzollern.
The view of Hohenzollern Castle is one of the highlight on day five of the Alb-Crossing. | © Black Forest Production GmbH

As it should be, the climax comes at the end. On the last day of the Alb-Crossing, we go over Lemberg Mountain, the highest point in the Swabian Alb. Then it is downhill all the way to Tuttlingen. Our Grand Tour of the Swabian Alb is drawing to a close. We agree that six days is not enough; way too short. Maybe we should turn around and pedal back again?

The detailed route description with map, elevation gain, sights, places to stop for refreshments and charging stations is here:

The Albsteig Hiking Trail (HW1)

A long-distance hiking trail Classic

The Albsteig Hiking Trail (HW1)

In the old days, some of the pilgrims walking the Pilgrimage Trail to Santiago de Compostela thought that it was a bit monotonous. Or so the story goes. They should have walked the Albsteig, the Swabian Alb’s long-distance hiking trail that follows the Albtrauf. This classic German route connects so many fascinating places; it is never boring.

Ein Mann und eine Frau stehen in Wanderoutfits an einem Aussichtspunkt und genießen die Aussicht über die Schwäbische Alb.
The Albsteig hiking trail follows the ridge of the Swabian Alb. From there, hikers enjoy fantastic panoramic views. | © Gregor Lengler
Zwei Menschen wandern auf der Schwäbischen Alb am Albtrauf mit einem tollen Panoramablick.
On the way along the Albtrauf | © Gregor Lengler

The Albtrauf is the escarpment forming the spine of the Swabian Alb, where sheer 1,000 feet/300 metre drops open up vast panoramas. “This is the best,” you think; but around the corner is another, even better one. It is no wonder that, back in the Middle Ages, rulers built castles and fortresses on these intimidating bluffs.

The Albsteig hiking trail rises and falls, going up and down like a roller-coaster. Depending on the weather, hikers almost feel as if they are changing climate zones, as well as altitude! Muscles and lungs work hard. But, at the top, there is time to rest and contemplate the oh-so impressive natural landscape. To get the best out of the experience, allow two weeks and complete the entire Albsteig. That way, you can sit in one of the meadows, where spring brings bees buzzing from flower to flower. You can listen to a woodpecker pounding away at a tree and spot a deer scurrying for cover.

Das Biosphärengebiet Schwäbische Alb stellt eine äußerst vielfältige Landschaft dar.
The Swabian Alb has an exceptionally diverse landscape | © TMBW | Foto: Denger

Unspoiled by mass tourism, the Swabian Alb is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its heathland, studded with juniper bushes, is a rarity in Europe today. The semi-dry grassland provides a habitat for a variety of animals, butterflies and plants, such as orchids, gentian and thyme. Shepherds still tend sheep, a century-old tradition. The sheep graze on anything and everything – except juniper! But they are not the only creatures that thrive. You may even see buffalo and ostrich, which are farmed here.

The Albsteig hiking trail from Donauwörth to Tuttlingen was created a hundred years ago by the Swabian Alb Association, who helped to map out the route. Today, members of the local hiking club are always keen to pass on tips to visitors on everything from the best views and castles to the best taverns and beer gardens! 

Eine junge Wandergruppe befindet sich auf einem schmalen Pfad mit grünen Wiesen rechts und links. Im Hintergrund sieht man Berge und den blauen, strahlenden Himmel.
On the sixth stage of the Albsteig trail, we hike through the Swabian Alb between Heubach and Donzdorf. | © Landratsamt Göppingen
Buchengänge und Panoramablick auf dem Traufgang Zollernburg auf der Schwäbischen Alb | © Albsadt Tourismus
The Albsteig in the Zollernalb (stages 13 and 14) is characterized by beech forests and magnificent views | © Albstadt Tourismus

The entire hiking trail covers a total of 222 miles/358 km. Highlights include traditional dishes in cheerful country inns. After all, hearty exercise produces hearty appetites! And rehydration can include beer as well as water!

The Albsteig, or HW 1 long-distance hiking trail, is designated as one of the Top Trails of Germany. Further information on the route, accommodation options and sights can be found at:

More Information on the Alb-Crossing and the Albsteig

Oveview

More Information on the Alb-Crossing and the Albsteig

Alb-Crossing Swabian Alb

Mountain bike tour

Alb-Crossing - Overall Route

Hard
  • 368 km
  • 42:25 h
  • 7011 m
Morgenstimmung am Tieringer Hörnle

Long distance hiking trail

Albsteig (HW1) - hiking trail across the Swabian Alb - Overall route

Hard
  • 358.6 km
  • 109:38 h
  • 8346 m
  • Langer Qualitätsweg
Gästekarte AlbCard

Tip for Overnight Visitors

About 150 hosts give their guests the AlbCard from the first night onwards. Thanks to the AlbCard, you can use public transport for free and enjoy entry to over 160 sights free of charge.

Cities and Highlights along the Route

Overview

Cities and Highlights along the Route

Aalen Panorama

Aalen

Fantastic views await you in many corners of Aalen, especially at the city's most popular vantage point - the Aalbäumle. It's worth exploring a …
Limes Museum Aalen

History museum Aalen

Limes Museum Aalen

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
iew of the outdoor pools of the Panorama Therme

Thermal bath Beuren

Panorama Therme Beuren

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
  • Thermensommer
Bad Urach_Mende_0C0A7511

Castle Bad Urach

Urach Residential Palace

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
AlbThermen

Thermal bath Bad Urach

AlbThermen Bad Urach

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
  • Thermensommer
Uracher Wasserfall

Waterfall

Urach Waterfall

Wilhelmstraße with Marienkirche and Linden fountain in Reutlingen

Reutlingen

In the middle of the biosphere area, Reutlingen offers you charming and impressive culture. Let yourself be inspired by the great landscape combined …
Bear Cave

Cave Sonnenbühl-Erpfingen

Bärenhöhle

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
Fog Cave Sonnenbühl Swabian Alb

Cave Sonnenbühl-Genkingen

Nebelhöhle

  • Your "Alb Inclusive" Vacation
Stadtansicht Hechingen Frühling

Hechingen

In Hechingen, nature and culture are combined in the most beautiful way! City experience, cultural pleasure, nature enjoyment and family adventure …

Castle Burg Hohenzollern

Hohenzollern Castle

  • Cosmopolitan
View over Balingen to the Balingen mountains

Balingen

Balingen is a town with a diverse, modern and attractive offer. Family friendliness and education, culture and sport - these are the focal points of …